image of Jack Jennings

Richard M. Long, Learning First Alliance

Jack Jennings, author of Fatigued by School Reform.

As educators are struggling with how to open the schools in the face of multiple crises, it is important to keep one’s perspective and to lay the foundation for a better school system for the future. Too often short-term fixes become long-term policies which are hard to change. We want the opposite: immediate policy changes that will lead to better schools.

In the attached podcast and an emerging series of letters from/columns by the heads of organizations are meant to discuss this long-term strategy. It is also hoped that we can offer suggestions to follow a solid long-term view of schooling.

Fatigued by School Reform, a new book by Jack Jennings, will provide some guidance during this process. Jennings argues that school reform has been both wrongly targeted and over-sold. Efforts should be focused on helping lower and middle income students to overcome any disadvantages from their families’ socio-economic status and also on recruiting more teachers with high verbal and cognitive skills. In addition, politicians and “experts” have peddled the wrong-headed view that the schools alone can solve society’s problems. Schools can help but not lead the fights to set good social and economic policies.

Two examples will give an idea of what can be done by this project. Undoubtedly, the short-comings of computer-based learning will have to be faced this summer. Kids benefited from that teaching tool roughly along socio-economic lines. The more-affluent the child’s family was, the more likely the child was at ease with computers, and vice—versa.

School districts will have to find some way for lower- and middle-class kids to make up for what they did not get from computer-based learning in the period from March to June. One of Jennings’ ideas is that schools offer after-school and summer programs as part of ordinary education to help kids left behind.  Is there some way to help students in the short-term to make up that deficiency from last school year while incorporating the expectation that this make-up work will become after-school and summer programs on a permanent basis?

Another example concerns teachers. School districts will face budget tightening in the next few months, as the recession and the virus reduce tax revenue. In past recessions, college graduates went into the teaching as other jobs disappeared. If a district is in the position of revising its employment practices, can it incorporate among its requirement that teachers show high verbal ability and cognitive skills? That is another of Jennings’ recommendations, using research evidence as the basis for this change.

The question is—how should this agenda be adopted? It would be a shame to repeat our mistake.